Bizarre ships- American River Steamers

I’m not sure what etiquette, if any, covers the scanning of pages from out of print books to post on the internet for the edification of others. So for this chapter I’m just going to sample a few pages. Admittedly, they are the ones with pictures on them.

We all know what an American river steamer looks like from Westerns and musicals. What I never knew was that they were incredibly shallow draught craft, to navigate up the rivers. Because Iron was at a premium at the time, they utilised wood for as much as possible, including the drive shaft.

There were two distinct styles of river boat, the Easter and Western. Eastern boats ran up the Hudson and in the Long Island Sound, Western boats in the Mississippi- Missouri- Arkansas- Ohio- Red River basin. Various quirks of design made them unstable and the Western boats were intentionally built for a short life because they were likely to rip their hulls apart on concealed tree trunks or be otherwise disabled within five years. (A “Sawyer” was a floating tree entangled by its roots and alternately raised and depressed by the force of the current; it usually gave warning of its presence. Presumably where Mark Twain got the name for his character as well.)

More information about modern steamboats at